Just some more work on my gospel vocabulary.
Here’s another way to think about it belief, consequence, judgment and the life of the age to come.
What Jesus does when he proclaims that the kingdom-of-heaven/earth/eternal-life/being-in-Christ is at hand, is that he declares it is close and available to all of his hearers. We include ourselves in that having heard him. He does not limit it to the future, he declares its advent in the present and if it was present 2000 years ago it is certainly present and available and close at hand right here and now.
What is this thing he is speaking of? He describes what it is like, he makes demonstration of it in signs and healings. It is the undoing of all that we suffer from in our present situation, I like to call that situation “the age of decay”.
Jesus announces “release” (see Luke 4) from the age of decay and he doesn’t announce it as an exclusively future reality, he announces it as a present reality. The wealthy ruler of Luke 18 makes the time mistake too. We inherit (not earn, not appropriate, children inherit) eternal life. It is received, like a child receives an egg from his father (not a scorpion).
The two opposing realities: the age of decay and the age to come have a relational characteristic about them. God, the way he relates, see Luke 5:43-48, his perfection in fact is tied up in how he relates to others. I call this relational polarity. The relational polarity of God is “your wellbeing at my expense” and God does this all over the place. The relational polarity of the age of decay is reversed: “my wellbeing at your expense” and we are all very familiar with this dynamic. It is the dynamic of kings as described in 1 Samuel 8. It is the dynamic of the whore of Babylon. It is the way of the world.
When Jesus talks to the wealthy ruler in Luke 18 it seems clear the ruler is operating under an assumption of a qualification for future reward mentality. Jesus dealt with that pretty straightforwardly a few verses prior with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector and what Jesus invites the wealthy ruler into is the life of the age to come at a deeper level today.
CS Lewis likes to make the point that if in fact we really are everlasting beings and that if death isn’t really the kind of hard reset on our consciousness, story and character then what are small flaws today can over the timespan of everlastingness become the horrors of hell. What believing in Jesus really is of course involves assent to a group of ideas about how the world is combined with actions consistent with those ideas.
If we believe that the life of God is available to us, and if we now believe on this side of the resurrection that we are in fact everlasting creatures and will be given a new imperishable body to live in an imperishable world this re-orients how we deal with people around us and the world around us. If we also believe that this world is not merely disposable but in fact decisions made in history as we experience it have consequences on the other side of the resurrection AND that good things we do by God’s grace today bear rewarding fruit after that transition, store up in heaven not for use in heaven but safe outside of the age of decay (where moth and rust don’t consume) to be enjoyed in the world made imperishable then we are freed to do all kinds of generous things.
If however, we are gripped by the assumptions of the age of decay we operate under its rules (Paul talks this way about the Spirit) then we do things under its rules. We live in the age of decay and we perpetuate it by our behavior.
Obedience then has its own reward even though often living as in the age to come in the context of the age of decay predictably leads to exactly what Jesus received, the cross. What we also learn from Jesus is that such cruciform living also results in resurrection.